Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Act of Drawing Well.

Michelangelo. Studies for Haman, c. 1511-12. Red chalk. The Teyler Museum.

Michelangelo. Studies for Haman, c. 1511-12. Red chalk. The British Museum.

Michael Whynot. Figure Study, c. 2012. Collection of the artist.


"The eye cannot see what the mind does not know"  Anonymous.

"The whole essence of good drawing - and of good thinking, perhaps - is to work a subject down to the simplest form possible and still have it believable for what it is meant to be."  Chuck Jones.

"Drawing is not the form; it is the way of seeing the form." Degas.

"There is nothing like drawing a thing to make you really see it."  Margaret Atwood.




The act of drawing well takes time; there are no shortcuts, no free lunches. The amount of time this process takes will vary by individual and can happen gradually or suddenly or not at all, but will always involve a fundamental shift in perception.

Nature is populated by an infinite variety of forms - they define our reality. Every moment of every day we interact with them; handle them; embrace them. We humans are engaged in an intimate relationship with forms.

So why is it that when we sit down to draw these forms in all their three-dimensional wonder, that our minds collapse into a two-dimensional perception of sorts? Since we are drawing on a two-dimensional surface, we mistakenly believe that we are locked into only those two dimensions: width and height. We know we cannot draw into the paper, cannot see around and behind a form, trapped as we are in a single point of view. We believe we cannot draw depth, so our mind ignores it.

This is a problem not of visual perception, but of mental perception.

The basis of drawing well is knowledge. Our mind must understand a given form before we can draw it well. You must be able to imagine a three-dimensional form occupying space before you can hope to draw it with any sense of depth or volume.

Ironically, the process of understanding a form involves the drawing of that form over and over again. Each time you draw a given form, you will see in it something new, something that allows you to understand the form a little better. You begin to internalize the form which will, in turn, allow you to draw it even better the next time around, until one fine day...

How many times did Michelangelo draw studies of Haman to achieve the effects displayed in his two studies I have include above? How many studies of torsos and limbs were drawn to coax them into thrusting out into space with such vivid life?

Nature is complex and deceptive, so copying nature without understanding nature, while widely practiced, will never lead to drawing well. Knowledge of form will allow you to select those elements that can simplify and clarify a drawing, bringing emphasis to those aspects of your choosing, which is the true domain of art.

Michelangelo understood form and it elevated his draftsmanship to pinnacles rarely witnessed since.

The act of drawing well is advanced through the act of understanding form, while the act of understanding form is advanced through the act of drawing well. Understanding and drawing, each dependant upon the other, so intertwined that when I examine them closely they appear, to my eye, as one.